The fallacy of disregarding the past because of certain evils

There is almost a reflexive habit these days that many people have developed when bringing up the virtues of past times. Upon acknowledging that such times were more decent, more moral and more civil, and more beautiful, more artistic, and more spiritual not to mention more courageous, more genius and more honest, such people, as if in need of purging a substance too pure, then disregard such times and their ways as nothing to be emulated because they had social evils which our time has apparently overcome.

In particular, this phenomenon has become common when discussing the merits of the Founding Fathers and the earlier American culture. It seems that to certain people, the fact that such times had social evils and was not a perfect utopia, means that their entire way of life was tainted and to even think of adopting some of their virtues as the cure to our modern woes would open the door for the return of slavery and the conquest of indigenous tribes.

One of the staple ideas of modernism was to end the long reigning tradition of valuing knowledge of the past and learning from it. Instead, the past is viewed as merely a series of events which modern people have no relation to other than their being so much more advanced than it. The technology and scientific methods that were developed apparently called for the replacement of proven wisdom with a new constantly changing information on how to best live life.

Somehow there’s been a mix up, as technological advancement has been mistaken for social advancement, and usually to fill the gap some appeal to egalitarianism compensates all the new defects that our modern society has. The result is a sort of automation of thought where it is actually a logical requirement that modern times are always moving in the right direction no matter how odd they may seem as long as they are “progressive.” In other words, the only wrong we can do is to hold onto the past and resist change.

This mentality becomes particularly neurotic when it is pointed out that certain modern changes are most definitely a move in the wrong direction. For example, an argument might be made such as this: the modesty and decency of women’s dress in the 19th century must be inferior to the scanty and suggestive dress of our time because “women didn’t even have the right to vote back then.” Logically it would follow then that even if these women were walking naked to the voting booth as if they were from a pack of animals, perhaps not even able to speak intelligible language, (and we are not that far from such a scenario) this would still be an advancement from the high character of the 19th century lady.

The real poverty of the fallacy of disregarding the past is that one’s own degeneration remains unseen and unfixed. The pride that one is advanced just because one lives at a later date negates the natural urge to strive to equal one’s ancestors greatness. Without this motivation a slovenly, indulgent attitude sets in like a spoiled child who has no respect for their parents.